Health

Airport Travelers May Have Been Exposed to Whooping Cough

A four-month-old child who travelled out of San Diego Lindbergh Field may have exposed fellow travelers to pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory illness which is also known as whooping cough, according to San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) officials.

The child, who was up-to-date with vaccinations for his age, travelled with a parent from San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia on Friday, July 19. The child was seen by medical staff at Rady Children’s Hospital shortly before leaving. Tests later confirmed the child had pertussis.

County officials are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to notify people potentially exposed at the airport.

“We are seeing a slight increase in the number of pertussis cases this year,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., county public health officer. “This is a good reminder to parents to make sure their children are up-to-date on pertussis and all vaccinations with the start of the school year for many children right around the corner.”

There have been 114 cases of pertussis reported in the region to date in 2013. Last year at this time, 81 cases had been reported locally. A total of 165 pertussis cases were reported for the entire year in 2012.

A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild. The disease is treatable with antibiotics.

The CDC recommends that children get the DTaP vaccine series at the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. Health officials also recommend that preteens and adults get a Tdap booster. Infants under one year old are especially vulnerable and can develop life-threatening complications. Tdap is also recommended for pregnant women during the third trimester of each pregnancy.

Parents who suspect their children may have been exposed should contact their primary care physician. They can also obtain the vaccine series and the Tdap booster shot for themselves and their children through their primary care physicians. Local retail pharmacies offer vaccinations for a fee; anyone who is not covered by a medical insurance plan can get the shot from a County Public Health Center at no cost.

For more information about whooping cough and ongoing vaccination clinics, call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966, or visit www.sdiz.org.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact